Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time to save the data (again)

This time, it is time: The American Time Use Survey.

This data source, which became fully operational in 2003, is an annual survey that provides the only available information on how Americans use their time. In the view of many social scientists, it is the most important new data initiative begun by the U.S government in at least 35 years. The size of the ATUS sample was already reduced by 35 percent beginning in 2004. That was truly unfortunate, but elimination of the survey would be a far more serious loss.

The ATUS provides essential information on how Americans spend their time, including time spent caring for children, cleaning the house, working for pay, and caring for sick adults. Put simply, the ATUS is needed to expand our horizons beyond merely charting where dollars go, to charting where time goes too. Statistics on spending, jobs, incomes, and so on are undeniably important. But anyone who wants to understand the changing lives of American families, to monitor the well-being of the American population, to measure national output, productivity and other outcomes that are essential to sound economic policy-making, or to make informed social policy decisions also needs information on how our population spends its time.

Although the ATUS is a relatively new survey, it has already proven to be an invaluable component of the statistical infrastructure, giving us a unique window on ourselves and our society. Moreover, the power of the ATUS has grown as more years of data have accumulated. Every other advanced nation in the world collects time use data. If the ATUS is eliminated, American businesses, families, policymakers and researchers will lose out on critical information that can improve the quality of our lives.

Join the cause, save our data.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

北京 Blogging

In Beijing for a couple weeks trying to pry some microeconomic datasets out of the hands of the rapacious gatekeepers of information inside China's various bureaucratic institutions. (Speaking of which, a special thanks to the good peoples at TOR, without whom this posting would not be possible). So far not too much luck, but will keep on plugging. Whatever happened to, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need?"

Been meeting interesting people, though, including from the China Center for Economic Research at Beijing University (北大). CCER is China's premier economic research center, and most famously the institution created by Justin Lin, who just happens to be the newly appointed World Bank Chief Economist. Lin first defected from Taiwan to mainland China--or, Big Red, as I like to call it. Legend has it he was a model cadre, but then defected again (so to speak) to the call of neoliberalism in the University of Chicago's economics PhD program.

Most importantly, though, is Professor Lin's view on development economics, which I would describe as classical Washington Consensus plus. The "classical" part denotes his unwaivering belief in market specialization along lines of comparative advantage and expansion of comparative advantage-based trade. The "plus" denotes his view that government industrial policy has a role to play in creating institutions and promoting activities that support and conform to development of industries in which a country is comparatively advantaged. Lin calls these "comparative advantage following" development strategies. You can read all about it in his recent Alfred Marshall Lecture at Cambridge University.

There are a lot of problems with Lin's views, but most importantly that the position he supports contradicts most of the empirical stylized facts from successful late developing countries. The distinction could not be more clear in what Dani Rodrik presents in a recent paper (pdf). In fact, it seems that what makes development happen is the opposite of specialization: economic diversification. This creates a basis for development of rich economic linkages that fuel the economy's engine and lead to innovation. Of course, to get here, much industrial policy building necessary institutions to solve "coordination problems" where micro incentives are incompatible with desired macro outcomes for investment, technological development, and long-run stable growth. These stylized facts, along with many theoretical underpinnings that I won't go into here, comprise a basis for a new approach to the role of governments in economic development: or, Industrial Policy 3.0, as I like to call it.

So while Lin's entree to the World Bank scene marks a shift, it is not clear how much in the right direction the shift is in terms of understanding the reality of economic policy problems facing developing countries. Significant, of course though, is his appointment as the first economist from a developing country. This probably says more about institutional and international politics playing out above Lin's pay grade. After all, what better way to let some steam out of the international pressure to reallocate voting shares at the Bretton Woods institutions than to throw a bone to China? Certainly, like getting the Olympics, it is great "face" for China. But Lin's research agenda still conserves the intellectual basis of the international economic stratification on which the rich countries (and China's coalescing capitalist-cadre elites) power rests.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Democracy Just Keeps On Delivering

NYT's edition:

The Bush administration’s decision to put six detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on trial before military tribunals and to seek the death penalty is both a betrayal of American ideals and simply bad strategy. Instead of being what they could and should be — a model of justice dispensed impartially, surely and dispassionately — the trials will proceed under deeply flawed procedures that violate this country’s basic fairness. The intense negative attention they will receive will do enormous damage to what is left of America’s standing in world opinion.

...This week’s announcement is a reminder that those rights will be so limited in the military tribunals that the credibility of any verdict will be undermined. Prosecutors will be able to use evidence obtained by improper means, including by torture. The rules will be stacked in the government’s favor, so hearsay evidence that would not be allowed in civilian courts may be allowed. Prosecutors may rely on classified evidence that the defendants will not be able to challenge. Defendants may not be allowed to call important witnesses.

Hanging over it all is the Kafkaesque fact that even if the defendants were somehow to beat the charges, they would not be set free. They would simply go back to being detainees in Guantánamo.

Dog bless America.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Get Consular Warnings

I decided to try resuming blogging after a long blogging burn-out. That, and I obviously need more online distractions that do not include Scrabulous or dissertation writing.

This morning brings a nice consular warning from my rich Uncle Sam. Apparently, in the even of an avian flu pandemic, I might be sticking around China for a while:

If the WHO declares a pandemic, Americans who are overseas should be prepared to remain in country for an extended period. You should avoid non-essential travel beyond your home and workplace and you should limit activities that could expose you to others who may be ill. Based on varying conditions abroad, Americans should prepare contingency plans and emergency supplies (non-perishable food, potable water or water-purification supplies, medication, etc.) for the possibility of remaining in country for at least two and up to twelve weeks. Visit to see examples of comprehensive planning checklists for individuals, businesses, schools, and other groups.

And what advice do they have for me in such an event?:

During a pandemic, people should practice social distancing measures such as teleworking, limiting face-to-face meetings, avoiding crowds, and maintaining a distance of six (6) feet or more from other people.

I'm guessing that whoever wrote this has never been to China. Probably only in Tibet, Xinjiang, or Inner Mongolia could one possibly get more than 6 feet away from another human being...